All you need to know about Application Security

What is Application Security?

When an application is built and distributed online, it may contain confidential information/data that needs to be protected from unauthorized access and modification. The processes involved in ensuring the protection of an Application from unauthorized access, come under the application’s security processes. They include:

  • Identifying the critical assets of an organization.
  • Identifying the genuine users accessing the data.
  • Deciding the extent of access provided to each user.
  • Identifying the weak points in the application which are susceptible to security violation.
  • Analysing the extent of risk on data exposure.
  • Deciding the criticality of data.
  • Coming up with the necessary remediation methods, in case of a security violation.

application security testing

What does Application Security policy ensure?

Application security policy aims to ensure the fulfillment of the following basic conditions of security:

  1. Confidentiality: The exclusive data contained in the application, needs to be protected from exposure.
  2. Integrity: The data contained in the application must be protected from unauthorized modification.
  3. Availability: The application needs to be accessible only to the genuine users, within a predetermined period of time. It needs to be protected from unauthorized access.
  4. Non-repudiation: Once the data is modified in any manner by a genuine user, he/she cannot deny having performed the modification.

Ensuring that the conditions listed above are fulfilled forms the core part of security analysis.

Why is Application Security necessary?

In the current business scenario, everyday transactions are simplified by shifting them on to the cloud. Though this has innumerable advantages, a heavy cost needs to be paid for it, in terms of security. Every day numerous transactions happen online which involve the sharing of confidential information like the user’s bank account details, medical history and other personal data. A breach in the security protocol costs heavily for the organization in terms of users’ trust, credibility, revenue and legal liability.

Having a tested and functional security system in place can greatly benefit your organisation in the following ways:

  • It reduces the amount of money to be spent on remedial and recovery measures.
  • It improves your organization’s credibility in the eyes of your users.
  • It reduces the cost of manual and outsourced security testing.
  • It enhances customer trust and helps in retaining customers.
  • It gives your organization the much needed edge over its competitors.

What are the common threats to Application Security?

In today’s world, technology is a ubiquitous entity that forms an inseparable part of our personal and professional lives.  The world of business is no exception to this trend. When companies begin to increasingly transact online, the threat to security deepens. The commonly observed threats to application security include:

Web App Security

  • Cross-site scripting (XSS): It is a type of web app security vulnerability in which a coder injects client-side code (also called malicious code/ malicious payload) into a website or web application. This malicious code injection is done either through the search bar or posted as a user comment.
  • Session Hijacking: When a user accesses an application, he/she is allocated a “session”. A session hijacker slips into a user’s session and reads the information passing between the server and the user.
  • Parameter Manipulation: Information is passed between two websites through URL parameters. A hijacker can manipulate the URL parameters to his advantage, to get the application to act in ways controlled by him.
  • Buffer Overflow: In order to prevent the overwriting of data in a website, a small amount of space called ‘Buffer’ is allotted for data storage. Hackers can use this knowledge to overfill a buffer and write their malicious code over their existing data.
  • Denial of service: Hackers use this simple technique to slow down the services of an application by bombarding it requests for information.
  • SQL Injection: It is a code injection technique similar to cross-site scripting, in which malicious code is injected into a site in order to access exclusive data or to delete it entirely, causing major problems in the site’s smooth operation.

Mobile App Security

mobile app security

  • Insecure Data Storage: When confidential user information such as usernames, authentication tokens, passwords, location data, etc., is stored without proper security, the user may lose this exclusive information to the wrong hands.
  • Insufficient Transport Layer Protection: In a mobile application, data is exchanges between the client and the server. This data travels from the client to the server via the carrier network and the internet. If the application is improperly coded or not secured, hackers can access data when it travels across the carrier network.
  • Client Side Injection: Mobile applications are meant for the client’s usage. When a client installs an app and uses it from his device, he has the scope for uploading malicious code or load simple text based attacks. Your application is vulnerable to injection attacks such as SQL injection, if the app is accessed from more than one user account on the same application.
  • Improper Session Handling: When a user improperly handles his session with your application, your app is rendered vulnerable to Session Hijackers.
  • Side Channel Data Leakage: While encrypting code, a side channel attack is an attack based on the physical implementation of an encryption system instead of targeting the loopholes in code. Observing the behaviour of data can allow hackers to find and exploit security vulnerabilities.

What can be done to ensure sound security for your application?

  • Security Testing: This test is performed to ensure that the application is not susceptible to hacking or other security problems. The application is tested to meet authentication, data security, authorization and all other security requirements.
  • Ensuring transport layer security: Transport Layer Security protocol ensures that data is secured from access while being transported across the carrier network. It ensures that the data is private and not modified or accessed while it travels between two nodes of the internet.
  • Proper session handling: This can be done in the following ways-
    • Using long and unpredictable session IDs
    • Ending a session on the server side instead of waiting for cookie expiration to end sessions.
    • The session can be destroyed on the server after a user logs out.
    • To allow the user to perform a critical action, he/she can be asked to re-authenticate.
  • Controlling the execution of high risk transactions: Not every transaction carries the same level of risk threat. It helps for organisations to adopt a risk-aware approach that constrains the client-side functionality based on the level of risk threat, considering factors like client location, user access patterns, data access profiles, etc.
  • Understanding your application’s security vulnerabilities: Knowing exactly which part of your application code is vulnerable to security threats can help you take necessary action against possible hacker intrusion.
  • Data encryption: Data sensitive to hacking such as user profiles, bank account details, and other financial information, can be encrypted to protect against security threats like SQL injection.

The best way to tackle the increasing security threats is to know your threats and take necessary measures for prophylaxis. Remember that age old saying, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’? It applies as much to your application’s security measures as to anything else.